“Our objective is to reach the final and we promise our fans that we will,” said Persepolis' central defender Hosseini after scoring late in the second half to propel his side past Al Jazira and into the last eight of the competition, the-afc.com reported.
Six months on, Hosseini’s words echo fresh as Persepolis finds itself exactly where its skipper had promised – 180 minutes away from delivering Iran’s first AFC Champions League title.
The 36-year-old’s ability to instill confidence and motivate his teammates has been as influential as his defensive skills in inspiring Persepolis to a maiden appearance in the final.
Hosseini’s status as one of Iran’s most experienced players saw him appointed the Iranian Reds’ skipper in his second spell with club, and his signing proved to be an astute one for Branko Ivankovic’s side, who have since returned to their glory days.
The move to Persepolis helped Hosseini become the most decorated player in the history of the Iranian Pro League after winning back-to-back league titles in 2016-17 and 2017-18. The two wins take the defender’s total to six league titles, having already won it with Saipa in 2007, then three times in a row with Sepahan in 2009, 2010 and 2011.
Last year, Hosseini contested 701 minutes out of a possible 1,080 as Persepolis reached the semifinals for the first time in the club’s history. Knockout stage wins over Qatar’s Lekhwiya and Saudi Arabia’s Al Ahli saw the Iranian champion come within 180 minutes of a place in the final, but another Saudi side, Al Hilal, would prove too strong.
Ivankovic’s men came stronger this season and, despite his advanced years, so did Hosseini. The Tehran side topped its group. Boasting the meanest defense in the group stage of the 2018 campaign, conceding just three goals in six matches – all of which came in an away defeat to would-be semifinal opponent Al Sadd.
Hosseini has added goals to his game in the knockout rounds, and without his efforts at the other end of the pitch, Persepolis would not have made it to the showpiece event.
In the second leg of the Round of 16 against the UAE’s Al Jazira, and with Persepolis trailing 4-3 on aggregate, Hosseini advanced forward for a throw-in. The ball was launched long into the box and, following a poor defensive clearance, the defender pounced to fire in a half-volley a striker would have been proud of, sending Azadi Stadium into raptures and his team into the quarterfinals on away goals.
In the quarterfinals, Persepolis went into the second leg in Tehran trailing 1-0 to Qatar’s Al Duhail, and in the 33rd minute the Reds had conceded another one, leaving them staring elimination firmly in the face against a side who had won all nine of its games in the competition to date.
With just over half an hour to play, Hosseini adjusted himself well to connect with Ali Alipour’s flick-on from a corner and send a left-footed volley into the back of the net to give the packed Azadi Stadium a ray of hope.
The skipper’s goal and energy for the remaining half an hour laid the foundation to a famous comeback as Sultan Al Brake’s own goal and Godwin Mensha’s 78th-minute strike sealed a 3-2 aggregate victory for Persepolis.
The veteran defender will be particularly motivated to win the continental trophy having been overlooked by national coach Carlos Queiroz for Iran’s 2018 FIFA World Cup squad in favor of his namesake Majid Hosseini and other younger names.
Having amassed well over 100 caps and participated in three editions of the AFC Asian Cup – 2007, 2011 and 2015, Hosseini has been gradually withdrawn from Iran’s setup. His last start dates back to June 2017 in a World Cup qualifier against Uzbekistan.
Only a major surprise could see the defender called up for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, but for now his focus will remain on keeping the AFC Champions League trophy in Tehran when his side welcomes Kashima Antlers to Azadi Stadium for the second leg of the final. But first, Ivankovic’s men will need to get a good result from their trip to Japan on Saturday.
“I will play as long as I can for Persepolis,” said the 36-year-old after signing a new contract with Tehran side in July. Hosseini’s new deal has no fixed wages nor an end date. A token of loyalty from the player as he prepares to wind down his career at the club.
“I will serve the club and bid farewell to my professional career in the Reds’ jersey.”
Hosseini’s farewell could be that much sweeter with an AFC Champions League winner’s medal in his cabinet.